I’ve always known that I wasn’t very interested in “showing off”, or doing things just to impress others, but the recent discovery of why I push my limits has been an interesting and unexpected journey and it has led me to question several previously held commitments.
It all began when I started breaking my personal distance records for running. At first it was 11 miles (18 km), and then 17 miles (28 km). I set these personal records alone, barefoot, and with nobody watching and nobody except my iPhone keeping track.
And that was enough for me. I didn’t need anything more. It was enough that I knew I had broken my previous records. It was enough because the record-breaking itself was only pursued because I wanted to explore that unknown, to run further than I had ever run before and to discover how my body would respond.
I wanted to feel those new muscles hurt, to know what it felt like to become delirious when my energy stores ran low, and to observe the strange thoughts of doubt surfacing when my feet were so tired that I could barely feel them. It was that exploration into the unknown, that feeling of passing 11-miles and knowing that with each stride I was experiencing something new, something that my body had never experienced before. It was that potential for discovery and that pursuit of the unknown that inspired me to keep going.
I have no desire to prove to others that I can do something. In fact, I don’t even need to prove it to myself. For me, it’s about the exploration, pure and simple. It’s about the journey. And I share my journey with others because the only thing more powerful than taking a journey is sharing it with others.
But if nobody witnesses my exploration — if nobody sees or records me setting a new world record — I’m absolutely fine with that. If I die with my name unknown to the world, that’s OK with me. What matters to me is that I’ve lived well and that I’ve lived in pursuit of the unknown. What matters to me is that I’ve never stopped learning and growing and that I’ve done my best to help others by sharing the uniqueness of my potential.
I’ve become fairly good at turning things down when I recognize that they won’t contribute to my overall vision or direction, or when I realize that I won’t be excited and enthusiastic about doing it when the time comes to follow through.
But what about those things that I’ve already committed to, those things that I was working towards but that now no longer hold any interest? What should I do with them when I discover they no longer inspire or motivate me or when I learn something new about why I chose to do them in the first place?
It seems rather wasteful and brainless to push through stubbornly, to ignore the fact that I’m no longer motivated and do something just because I’ve previously committed to it. Life is fluid, it’s not ridged. Life does not exist as a defined waterway set into stone that we must follow religiously. Life flows, and so should we.
I’ve become so weary of pushing through stale commitments and goals because doing so always creates a toxic feeling, a physical sensation that I can only describe as stress hormones spewing themselves throughout my body. When I feel it, I become hyper-focused on ignoring those feelings and then I need to expend enormous amounts of energy stubbornly pushing through whatever it is that’s generating them.
This stress generates a huge creative block, a resistance that prevents creativity of any type. As I put more and more importance on my creative work, I find myself increasingly weary of pushing through things just for the sake of ‘pushing through and sticking to the plan’. The plan now needs to have a clear purpose and it needs to make me feel alive.
In the past few years, I’ve given up and said no to many things in the pursuit of happiness, peace, flow, and simplicity. Facing negative energy, whether from myself or from those around me, immediately reminds me of just how far I’ve come and how much I’ve learned about releasing things that do not feel life-enriching.
But is it necessary to occasionally sacrifice some of that peace in the name of pushing myself beyond limits and stepping outside of my comfort zone?
A few months ago I registered for my first marathon, and then few weeks later I registered for my first ultramarathon. I registered for them because I thought I wanted an official record to show that I had run a specific distance, to see my name on a list of official runners and to be able to tell people that “I ran the Baystate Marathon”, or that “I ran the Chicago Lakeside 50-mile Ultramarathon.”
But as the two events approached, I found my motivation for both of them evaporating.
My focus in the past month has taken an unexpected turn, instigated, I believe, by the creative energy I felt in Tasmania. Up until that point, I was maintaining a regular training schedule and I was on target for the marathons. But when I arrived in Tasmania, I became more reflective and more internally creative. My training took a backseat and I started to reflect on why I had registered for the marathons in the first place.
Setting those new personal records and discovering my true motivations for running and pushing myself made me realize that I have absolutely no desire to see my name on an official record. If I run an ultramarathon all by myself, with nobody watching, I’d feel the same sense of satisfaction and accomplishment that I would feel if hundreds saw me do it.
I’ve learned that running is about the journey for me, it’s not about the destination. Completing an official marathon was a destination, not a journey (a journey would be pushing my body to run a marathon distance, which is something that I could do anywhere, at any time).
And so this is where I need to decide whether or not to push through and uphold a previously held commitment: Do I ignore all these new things that I’ve learned and move forward with pushing myself through the marathons just for the sake of completing them? Or do I allow myself to adapt and flow, to embrace this new knowledge of why I run and then adjust my focus and my goals accordingly?
At this point in writing, my thoughts shifted to what Bruce Lee might tell me. His words about flow came to mind: “Empty your mind. Be formless. Shapeless. Like water. Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle. You put it into a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow, or it can crash. Be water my friend.”
I stopped writing for a moment and looked outside to reflect on Bruce’s words. My eyes landed on a seagull perched high on a light pole, just moments before he leapt off and spread his wings. Did the bird commit to flying? Yes. But did he commit to a destination?
When a bird jumps from a tree branch, he makes a commitment to take flight. He may have the intention of flying to a neighboring tree, but he doesn’t make a commitment to do so; a gust of wind may alter his course and force him to land somewhere else. Instead, he commits to the intention of the journey and then adjusts course as needed, flowing and adapting, like water.